Long-time community supporter Ron Sweeney passes away

Dies Saturday at the age of 90 after battle with pneumonia

Mary and Ron Sweeney are shown with former Abbotsford South MLA John van Dongen in 2012 at the opening of the Sweeney Neighbourhood Centre at Abbotsford senior secondary.

Mary and Ron Sweeney are shown with former Abbotsford South MLA John van Dongen in 2012 at the opening of the Sweeney Neighbourhood Centre at Abbotsford senior secondary.

Former long-time Abbotsford teacher and dedicated community supporter Ron Sweeney passed away peacefully on Saturday at the age of 90.

Sweeney’s son Ron Jr. said his dad had been hospitalized with pneumonia for about six weeks leading up to his death.

Sweeney is survived by his wife of 65 years, Mary; their four sons, three daughters and their spouses; 29 grandchildren; and 20 great-grandchildren.

Ron Jr. said his dad was well-respected in the community, and many will remember him for his moral character, strong religious faith, sense of humour, and devotion to family.

Sweeney’s list of career and volunteer accomplishments is long, but he didn’t get involved for the accolades.

“He loved his community. He loved Abbotsford,” his son said.

Sweeney – affectionately know as “Papa” by his family – grew up in Vancouver as the 11th of 13 children.

He and Mary lived one block apart from another and met as teenagers. After their marriage in 1950, they moved to Abbotsford, where Sweeney began his 33-year teaching career at Philip Sheffield high school (now Abbotsford Virtual School).

He then spent 28 years at Abbotsford secondary, where he taught English, math, PE and community recreation, and coached numerous sports teams.

Ron Jr. said his dad was a well-loved educator, despite occasional exhibits of his “Irish temper,” which included a thrown piece of chalk or a tipped desk, but never involved “the strap” – a common form of discipline in earlier school days.

Ron Jr. laughs that even students who were the triggers for this behaviour have told him that they probably deserved it and they respected his dad as a teacher.

Sweeney loved to spend time with his children, and it wasn’t uncommon to have neighbour kids join them. Ron Jr. said they would often fill the family station wagon for trips to Centennial Pool, where his dad worked as a lifeguard when he wasn’t teaching.

Another key activity was the “Sweeney Hockey League” – a lively Sunday afternoon hockey game in the field, on the tennis court or on the ice.

Sweeney also loved music, having grown up around the family piano, and performed for several years with the Chalk Spots, a quartet composed of local teachers.

Later, the Sweeneys’ daughter Janet began voice lessons with some of the grandchildren and this led to the formation of the Sweeney Singers, who still perform at fundraising concerts in the community.

Sweeney and his wife also participated in the group.

“It was their joy to be able to sing with their grandkids,” Ron Jr. said.

After Sweeney retired from teaching in 1985, he served three terms as a city councillor and was also on the boards of Fraser Valley College, Prospera Credit Union, St. Vincent de Paul Society, the Chamber of Commerce, Ledgeview Properties and others.

He also served as chairman of the citizens’ advisory board at Matsqui Institution.

In 2010, Sweeney received the Benemerenti Medal from Pope Benedict XVI for his service to the Catholic Church.

In 2011, Prospera created two legacy awards in honour of his service: the Ron Sweeney Rising Star Scholarship and the Ron Sweeney Community Champion Award.

The following year, Sweeney received the Order of Abbotsford and was named one of two Citizens of the Year.

Also in 2012, a new centre that opened as part of the newly rebuilt Abbotsford senior secondary was named the Sweeney Neighbourhood Centre, in honour of the family’s long-time involvement in education and the community.

Services for Sweeney take place this week. Prayers and viewing are on Wednesday at 7:30 p.m. at St. Ann’s Catholic Church, 33333 Mayfair Ave. The service is at the church on Thursday at 10:30 a.m.